Whitley, 16th June 2002


Marked by God's love


Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8


All People That On Earth Do Dwell
Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
For The Healing Of The Nations
Trust And Obey


So, we should "go, tell it on the mountain," should we? Why is that, exactly? Well, for me, it goes back to what I was saying earlier about being marked by God's love. Our two readings effectively told us what we should do, and why we should do it. Before we can think about doing things for others, we need to get ourselves right with God. Thanks to Jesus, that's easy: Paul makes it clear twice in the passage we've just heard that Christ died for us. He also says that we are justified by faith, and therefore have peace with God.


It's almost too easy, in fact. Because even our human lives are packed full of quid pro quo - you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours - we find it very difficult to fully appreciate just how easy God is making it for us. However often I might repeat it to myself, I still find it impossible to really take in. Paul emphasises how different this is from normal human life. Normally, people don't die for each other. Someone might die for someone special - but Christ died for us as sinners. There's no exchange here: God loved us so much that he just gave his son's life for us.

Through Christ's sacrifice, my sins are obliterated. Not just put in abeyance; not just tolerated - they're completely wiped out. I think of it as if nothing can stand in God's presence unless it's whiter than white, purer than pure - and so God makes us that pure. We can't avoid dirtying ourselves by sin again - although obviously we can do our best - but God has promised that he'll keep on forgiving, and that we'll be able to stand before God in the next life: washed, as our second hymn said, in Christ's blood.

Bathing in God's light

So, once we are right with God, where does that leave us? Do we go back to our everyday lives, living as we did before Christ redeemed us and then returning when we next feel in need of forgiveness? No. If we truly believe that Christ willingly died for us, that must surely show a love that can't just be ignored. If we are opening ourselves up to God's love, that's a love which transforms us. Just as anyone who saw our laundry basket at home would know that we have cats, so anyone who looks at our lives should be left in no doubt that the Holy Spirit is in our hearts. The light that God shines upon us should radiate from us, reflecting his glory back to him and brightening the world wherever we go. If we truly accept Jesus into our hearts and give ourselves over to him, it's not a case of trying to do God's work - we should be filled with wonder, dizzied by his greatness. Again, look at the words of the hymn: "Filled with his goodness, lost in his love." I'm afraid I fall short on this front most of the time. There are moments, however, when it's utterly true, when I scarcely breathe because of a sudden, if fleeting, understanding of just how much God loves me.

I can remember very clearly one recent example of this. At a service on the Wednesday evening before Easter, I had a flash of insight. Something I'd never thought of before. Christ didn't just die for all of us. That in itself would have been wonderful enough - God in human form laying down his lives for sinners who didn't deserve anything of the sort. Christ died for each of us. If there had only been one person who would have been cleansed by Christ's death, I believe he would have laid down his life anyway. That's how much God loves us. Now, that's not my topic this morning, but the experience of that insight itself is more relevant. It just blew me away. I've rarely felt simultaneously so humbled and so loved. The feeling was incredible, and I wish I could open myself up like that more of the time. I would like to think that anyone who spoke to me that evening could tell that there was something different about me - because I certainly felt different inside.

Last Sunday morning I had the pleasure of stewarding a service in Tilehurst, led by Lucy Stacey. I don't know if you know her, but she's a dear lady who is part of the reason I became a preacher. I've only been at two of her services, but last week, just as at the other service, the light of God shone through her as if through a window. When God pours the Holy Spirit into our hearts, he doesn't give us just enough for ourselves - that's not how the Spirit works. He keeps pouring until, to steal a phrase from Psalm 23, our cup overflows. That's the impression I get from Lucy - that she has so much of God's love within her that she can't help but spread it to those she meets. That's the kind of faith I admire, and the kind of faith I commend to you this morning.

Giving our lives for God

So what practical difference should this make in the world? Are meant to all just sit around the whole time, gazing up into space and going "Wow!" but not doing anything with what we've got down here? Of course not. We don't want to be, as the saying goes, so heavenly minded that we're no earthly use. Given the other reading we have heard from Matthew's Gospel, and our previous hymn, you might now be expecting me to be exhorting everyone to leave this building proclaiming the Good News to everyone in Reading, but I won't. Jesus did more than just preaching and teaching - he was a healer, a friend, a shepherd. We should follow his example in the way that God calls us to. Here's a bit from Matthew again: "These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: 'Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.'" Okay, that sounds simple enough: Jesus wants the disciples to preach to the Jews. But right at the end of Matthew we have the great commission: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations." That doesn't sound much like preaching just to the Jews, going nowhere among the Gentiles. My take on this is that it demonstrates that God has different work for each of us. Jesus chose some people to go to the Jews. He chose some people to go to the Gentiles. His plan seems to have worked - Christianity has spread pretty well, I'd say.

Now take it one step further: not only does Jesus want us to affect different people, but I believe he has a different nature of work for each of us to do too. There are some things I'm good at: I can sing, I can act, and I'm pretty sure God called me to preach pretty early on in my life so that after a good deal of practice I can be good at this too. There are other things I'm not so good at: I'm not a terribly good listener, unfortunately, and I'm hopelessly disorganised in general. I can't make things in the way that my wife can, or play instruments like my father and brother can. That's fine: God can use their talents in one way, and mine in a different way. The important thing is that all our talents are used for God's purposes. Our entire lives should be so steeped in God's love and marked by it that we don't have any times where we deliberately shut God out. We should strive to do everything we can in a way that reflects glory back to God, and not do actions he would be ashamed to own.

Of course, that's impossible - we're human after all. Fortunately, that's okay too - look under "Forgiveness", just a few minutes ago. While we can't be perfect, however, we shouldn't be too quick to limit ourselves. What we do for God, we do with God. When we give ourselves up to God, we can do far more than we could on our own. In our reading, Jesus gave the disciples authority to cure every disease and every sickness. That sounds strange at first, because authority is usually associated with having a right to tell people what to do. How can that work with an illness? You can't tell an illness to pull its socks up and start playing nicely, can you? You can if you're God. You can if you created the universe. When Jesus told unclean spirits to leave a person, they left. When Jesus commanded that someone should be healed, they became well. Now think again about what Jesus was doing when he gave authority to his disciples. He was giving them power, by giving them the authority to effectively speak his words to the universe and make it obey him.

Suddenly it's all quite scary. I know what my normal limitations are, and while they mean I can't necessarily do everything I want to, I know my capacity for wrecking the whole world is pretty small too. I don't know how many of you have seen the new Spider-Man film yet - I don't know if it's your cup of tea at all or not - but it contains that good old cliché: "With great power comes great responsibility." I dread to think how many films and books have had that line or variations on it. It rings true though. If God gives me authority and power, I've surely got to take the responsibility too. Gulp. I don't know whether I want that power or not any more.

Fortunately, it's quite simple. God gives us authority to do his will, because we've given ourselves up to him. God doesn't then just give us some tools and tell us to get on with it. He is with us every step of the way, guiding us. If we go off on our own path, I have no doubt that the power given to us will vanish. We don't have the power to change the world and make it work the way we want it to work. We have the power to change the world and make it work the way God wants it to work. That doesn't mean it'll be easy, of course. Paul talks about us boasting in our sufferings, and while I'm not sure I'd want to boast about it if my life became really hard, I see his point in that it's better to suffer for God's sake than to live comfortably for our own - and at least we know that God is with us through whatever life throws at us. But through whatever suffering we have to bear, if we are doing God's work as best we can, we should be confident that our work will bear the fruit God intends, just as we can be confident in our hopes of heaven.


Now, I've rambled around quite a lot, I'm afraid, mostly because the readings today have so many different aspects to them. Hopefully I've made three points clear, however:


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